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Yilan union calls for stepped up safety for migrant fishermen
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Photo courtesy of CNA
Taipei, Aug. 13 (CNA) A fishermen's union in Yilan County on Tuesday urged the Ministry of Labor (MOL) to step up safety measures for migrant fishermen, in the wake of reports of drownings in recent years due to unsafe practices.

Allison Lee  , secretary-general of Yilan Migrant Fishermen's Union, said that some migrant fishermen who have died while working at sea may have been saved if they had been wearing life jackets.

One of the cases was that of an Indonesian named Iwan Rohadi who drowned near Yilan in 2017 because he fell overboard without a life jacket when he was asked to work on a boat that he was not familiar with, Lee said.

"Rohadi's body was found three days later," Lee said.

Just two months later, another Indonesian fisherman, named Sayidi, who worked on a Nanfang'ao-registered fishing boat, also drowned off Yilan, Lee said.

Since Sayidi's death, Lee has been talking to union members to see how she can help the members with their safety concerns.

Lee said the vast majority of employers in the Nanfang'ao area don't allow their migrant fishermen to wear life jackets.

Citing a more recent incident involving another Yilan-registered fishing boat, Lee said the Chiuan Yi-Tsai No. 1, which left port Aug. 2, carrying five Indonesian fishermen and a Taiwanese captain to fish near the Diaoyutai Islands, was later declared missing and found days later to be broken up, with life jackets floating on the sea.

"This shows that the fishermen were not wearing life jackets at the time," she said.
In an effort to verify Lee's claim, CNA talked to two Indonesian fishermen, who said they didn't wear life jackets at work because they get in the way.

Meanwhile, a Filipino fisherman, who wishes to remain anonymous, on another boat confirmed that his employer did not allow him to wear a life jacket.

Li Wen-chin  , head of the Occupational Safety Division under the Ministry of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said that in accordance with rules governing occupational health and safety laws, fishermen need to wear life jackets in times of danger, such as working on deck.

"If a fisherman reports to us that he was told not to wear a life jacket by his employer while working, we will conduct an investigation. If we find out that he was told not to wear a life jacket, we will fine the employer between NT$30,000 (US$952) and NT$300,000," he said.

When asked how many employers have been fined for the violation, Li said he didn't have the information at hand. According to the union, no employers have been fined since 2012.

In order to overcome the problem of employers not allowing migrant fishermen to wear life jackets, the union also purchased some lightweight life jackets through donations from the charity organization T.H. Wu Foundation and its deputy chairman, Wu Liang-hung .

With the money donated in June, the union has purchased a total of 40 lightweight self-inflatable life jackets, which it plans to distribute to its 126 members through a raffle.

"The life jackets are light and should not get in the way of their work," Lee said, adding that the older style non-inflatable life jackets may have slowed down the working pace of migrant fishermen due to their bulk.

A draw will be held Thursday for its Filipino members, while a draw will be held for its Indonesian members in November when they have a social event planned that month, Lee said, adding that her union has 100 members that are Indonesian, while 26 are Filipino.

The Yilan Migrant Fishermen's Union was established in 2013 to help safeguard the rights of migrant fishermen, Lee said. There are around 2,000 migrant fishermen in the Yilan area. 

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